Fiscal Court discusses potential ordinance change related to utility-scale solar facilities

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2023

At a meeting of the Clark County Fiscal Court that sometimes turned contentious, a potential ordinance change regarding utility-scale solar facilities was recently discussed.

With the promise to review it in more detail before making any final decision at an upcoming meeting, the decision to go forth with the ordinance change was approved unanimously upon first reading.

Among other points, the ordinance reads:

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“The requirements set forth in this ordinance change shall govern the setback and decommissioning of all solar merchant electric facilities located solely or partly in Clark County, Kentucky, in a manner that will promote the safety, health, and welfare of the community; prevent utility-scale solar development in the Agricultural Zone; and preserve farmland, protect historic resources, and ensure that such facilities are developed in a manner compatible with neighboring properties.”

Opinions and reactions differed.

Several individuals were present at the meeting wearing stickers that opposed a pro-solar approach.

Robert Jeffries, the Director of Planning and Community Development Director for the city of Winchester, is in charge of the Comprehensive Unit Plan.

While expressing disappointment during the meeting that he was not informed sooner – and stating that he is not exclusively solar or anti-solar – Jeffries also provided his view on the ordinance in a post-meeting conversation with the Sun.

“The ordinance that was brought before the Fiscal Court establishes setbacks and establishes an application process with an application fee,” he said. “We were reviewing something similar to this a couple [of] years ago, so it’s an amendment to the zoning ordinance.”

Specifically, Jeffries contends that the issue should go to the Planning Commission and the public before the governing body, which he believes did not happen.

“I want to make sure that we’re following the statutes that are set by the state, that we’re following the regulations related to land use,” Jeffries said.

However, Clark County Attorney William Elkins disagreed.

“Mr. Jeffries can offer his thoughts, but he can’t offer legal conclusions to this court in the form of advice,” Elkins said. “It is not a text amendment. It is not a zoning ordinance.”

Will Mayer, Executive Director of Clark Coalition, expressed concern as it relates to HB 4.

According to the Kentucky General Assembly website, HB – or House Bill – 4 is related to merchant electric generating facilities.

Mayer has long been against industrial-scale solar replacing farmland in Clark County.

“The state legislation that was passed this spring by our legislature in Kentucky, which is due to take effect on June 28 will open the door for these developers to circumvent local control and to pursue projects with much-limited input,” Mayer said.

A second reading will take place at an upcoming meeting.

The Fiscal Court voted to prohibit industrial solar farming in Clark County in August 2021 until it could be considered for the next Comprehensive Plan.